Farmers first or Hindus first? Jats in Muzaffarnagar face an odd dilemma
Hindustan Times Delhi|January 29, 2022
MUZAFFARNAGAR: Fifty-fouryear-old Dharam Pal Singh is sitting on his haunches, smoking a beedi, and lost in thought.
Dipankar Ghose

Beneath him is a dirt track, and in front of him, are his fields of sugarcane. These are fields that have been central to his identity as a farmer, as a Jat, all his life. It is these fields that made him leave home for several months last year and join the teeming protests against the three farm laws at Delhi's Tikri border. It is this identity that has made him think about turning away from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), angry at the way the farmers were treated. In his mind, however, there is a but. Dharam Pal Singh's fields are just outside his village of Kutbi, one of the epicentres of the communal riots that tore through Muzaffarnagar in 2013, leaving around 60 dead, and displaced 50,000. Those wounds have not healed, and there is another identity, deep within, that is gnawing at him. "I am a farmer, but I am a Hindu too. There is only one party that protects Hindus and that is the BJP. I don't know what to do."

Somewhere in personal conflict, and the eventual decision that Singh will take on polling day, lies the electoral fate of Muzaffarnagar, and perhaps all of western Uttar Pradesh, a region that sends around 140 representatives to the 403-strong state assembly.

Muzaffarnagar was once a symbol of syncretism, with a 41% Muslim population, a small but bustling district headquarters built around small industries, and a village economy built on farming and sugarcane. Elections reflected this mix, with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) winning 3 seats, the Samajwadi Party (SP) 2, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) 1 in the 2012 elections.

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